On Friday, I left him beautiful, deep purple and ivory calla lilies, tied with green and white ribbon to purple tulips. I bought enough flowers to make two bouquets, one just a bit smaller, to leave for his father, who lies two graves to the left of his. I never buy any greens, no baby’s breath, no fillers, just the flowers. They are always purple, no matter what kind of flowers I choose that day. I always try to bring him peonies, because they’re the most beautiful flower, like he was the most beautiful man, but they aren’t always in season. I always tie the flowers with a green ribbon because it was lymphoma that took his life, green being the color of the lymphoma support ribbon. I always choose the music for the ride to the cemetery so carefully. On Friday, it was Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars - the same album that I listened to over and over again on the long ride to and from the hospital during his last few months. I honestly don’t know if it made it better or worse, the familiar melodies ringing in my ears, the notes of each song thumping in my heart, the lyrics, both eerily appropriate and so emotionally distant at the same time.
I know if I had the cancer, if it was me that died, he would leave flowers for my mother. I’m not so sure he would take them out of the plastic and tie them with a ribbon, or choose yellow flowers because it’s my favorite color. Maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. Maybe he’d special-order peonies, in season or not, just for me. I don’t know; frankly, it doesn’t matter because I’m here, I’m living, and he’s the one that has gone. Until Friday, only his brother knew that it is me that leaves two identical bouquets, one large, and one small, for him and his father, at their graves when I visit. After a bottle and a half of wine and hours and hours of staring at the very woods I ran through with him as a child and a teenager, I told my best friend about it. It felt like this secret that was bursting at the seams of me, that if I didn’t get the words out of my mouth, I might pass out from holding onto them. She looked at me, maybe a little surprised, and then said “he would have left flowers for your mom because he loved you, and that’s why you leave them for his father, because you loved him.” I don’t know if I was looking for the justification that her words gave me, but somehow, she knew that was what I needed to hear. Somehow, she knew that I almost, on some level, felt wrong for leaving flowers for both of them.
I sat in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, for what felt like an eternity on Friday night. Sipping wine, slowly numbing the pain, drying the tears. Remembering him. Staring into the woods, almost willing him to walk through them and into the yard, just like he did so many years ago. I thought of the words that recently came from a friend: “I know you’re coming up on a year since you lost him. Maybe you won’t have to think about what you were doing on this day last year anymore.” I had not thought about it in that sense. It is true, there is something that will change now. Yet, even as I type them, knowing they are true words, I am thinking in the back of my head that it was one year ago today that I typed my first entry about him here - just three short days after he died. That every day in that last year, I have thought of him and of us, of our kisses in parking lots or while he laid in a hospital bed and I leaned over to gently kiss his forehead as he slept and I slipped out of his room to get a cup of coffee, some fresh air, to cry where he couldn’t see me. That some days in the last year, I spent more time imagining what our life could have been, if there wasn’t any cancer, than focusing on what I needed to be doing at the time. That many days I didn’t want to get out of bed, simply because the weight of it was too much. That every night I laid my head down on my pillow knowing that I had gone another day without him and if I’m being completely honest, some nights, I was proud of myself for having done that. Many nights, I am proud of myself for pushing through, but mostly for keeping him in my heart, the place he lives now - fiercely pushing me along, lighting fires when I need them, rushing to quiet the noise when it becomes too much, finding a way to continue to hold my hand, so I’m never truly alone.
And one year later, here I am. I made it.